Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: The Fugard

Orpheus in Africa – a triumph of spirit and intention

unnamed-3Last night I had a profound experience at the theatre (The Fugard) and what was doubly surprising about it was that it was a musical (I hate musicals), and it was one I thought I had seen before; David Kramer’s Orpheus in Africa. This not the same one I saw at the beginning of the year. This is a reworked, finely tuned, and now truly powerful story, that is devastating, uplifting, human and heroic. It is David Kramer’s best work I think.

It totally helps that he has the cast of dreams, and that Aubrey Poo is beyond magnificent and was meant to be Orpheus Macadoo. And the rest of the cast are outstanding without exception, though I will make an exception when saying how brilliant Jill (Jazz) Levenberg is. Even the little niggles I had last time (wavery accents and weird white people) are gone, and the performances are better in every single way. A welcome addition to the delicious cast is Adrian Galley.

But what has happened to transform this musical and make it transcendent is that David Kramer has found the story. It is a complicated one, and he has had to travel through facts, and scratch out history and imagination to uncover the story that makes the journeys, successes, failures and ultimately the passions of the Macadoos, Virginia, so meaningful. David captures the vision of the world, and particularly South Africa, through the unique eyes of travelling American just freed black people, and it is such an extraordinary journey. Plus, I think it is so unexpectedly brave and risky to rework a show of this scale, but it has paid off in bucket loads.

I love this show. I love the music, and I am deeply in love with the style of the period, the costumes, and the performances. I love the singing, and the music (Charl-Johan Lingenfelder you make me laugh and laugh) and the Jubilee songs. And Aubrey Poo, you move me.

(Pic by the amazing Jesse Kramer)

 

Life is a Cabaret (but the world wants Disney)

Cabaret-03I don’t know why I have ended up at matinees at The Fugard twice in a row. I should have learned my lesson the last time, at David Kramer’s Orpheus in Africa, where all I wanted to do was kill the people around me, with their sweets and things in wrappers and coughing and cellphones and generally disgusting behaviour. I walked into the gorgeous Fugard foyer yesterday, took one look at the special matinee audience and felt sick. A Saturday matinee audience is the worst collection of old and deaf, parents and children, out of towners who don’t want to drive home too late, and me. So, what I am about to say about this extraordinary production of Cabaret is tainted by who I experienced it with. Just so you know.

As you, dear meganshead readers, are aware, I made a deliberate and hard choice not to write review style posts about theatre anymore. It stopped working for me, for many reasons (written about here in old posts). So it is interesting that I am returning to it so passionately with this show; mainly because I feel emboldened and want to declare why I thought this production was superb, on many levels, and why it is exactly this that has been its failure.

Matthew Wild’s vision for this production is dangerous and beautiful. His design is awesome, and his choices are strong. But, even just mounting this production was a huge risk for the hero director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Fugard management, who must have wanted to come up with a successor to Rocky. Initially I questioned the choice. There have been recent productions of Cabaret to compare it to, and of course there is the dangerously dated Liza Minelli movie that has locked this story into that version. Ok, so Rocky suffered the same conditions, but Rocky is fun, and outrageous, and cheeky and naughty (in that join in ‘I can be a little naughty too’ way). Cabaret is dark. Cabaret is proper horror. Cabaret is bleak, and historical, and complicated, and tragic. In a nutshell, it is not fun. This is a problem that many musicals face, but there is the promise of fun in Cabaret and I think it is what people remember. Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles; a ditzy, big-eyed innocent who just loves to be on stage, is what people remember. Cabaret has been disneyfied in memory.

Before the show even started I became aware of the loudness of the gran and her friend next to me, and the clacking of the ice in the miserable teenager’s plastic cup in front of me. “Ooh look, it says Berlin!” said the gran to her friend after repeating word for word the typing as it appeared on the scrim. Clack clack clack went the ice. Everything was more or less ok until the first boy on boy kiss. Then the gran got loudly disgusted and I knew we were in for it. They didn’t even know the story. And, unfortunately, this is how it was for most of the audience; some of whom didn’t even make it back after the long first half.

Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s performance of the emcee is totally inspired. He is a marvel in this role. It is a performance that is multi-layered, disciplined, articulate, magnetic and riveting, as well as beautiful, painful and exquisite. He moves from being charming and bold to horrifying and then exhausted, and every moment is a commentary on the world his character inhabits. And he plays the piano accordion. And he sings like a demon angel, and he dances his ass off. It is almost unbelievable.

The rest of this superb cast are extraordinary too. Everyone. Claire Taylor’s interpretation of Life is a Cabaret is the best I have ever seen. I thought everyone was fantastic. I loved the choreography, and styling and costumes, and I even loved the set (although it was a bit clunky).

This well thought out, clever, harsh, bleak, challenging show is not cute, or sentimental, or full of heart. It is ugly and raw. The girls are too thin. The boys are cruel. The main characters are complicated failures; the world is on its head. The choreography is clever; sordid but context conscious. The protagonists are weaklings, and self-absorbed. Nobody is loveable. The closest we get to liking someone is the Nazi sympathiser. He is personable. How clever. How complicated.

It is no secret that I am not a fan of musicals. The singing always gets in the way of everything. And in the real acting scenes here this is a great challenge. Also, the acting scenes are dated. They are old fashioned and long. This is also a huge challenge that I think has been handled boldly and bravely, but it is a high risk choice for a Disney ready audience. They want it offered to them. They don’t want to do a stitch of work.

I think this production is the best Cabaret I have seen. But, during the interval, in the toilet queue I heard old ladies complaining that it was too weird, and one old lady said, ” I’ve seen it twice before and this isn’t the same.” That is what they wanted it to be; the same as something they remembered.

So here we are. Between a rock and a very hard place. Thank you for this amazing but totally misunderstood piece.

(I think Jesse Kramer took this pic that I lifted from the Fugard website)

 

Cute as Bear Shit Champ

I am one of the didn’t-see-it-last-timers. I had been kicked off Artscape’s New Writing Programme’s opening night invite list, and I was in production with something else and I never made it; but obvz I had heard all about it, and was amped to see it last night. I even managed to beg to be invited to its opening at The Fugard, and I am so glad I did.

Champ. 3 actors dressed in bear suits and their demented hippy manager/director are having a particularly crap day at the Mall and their kiddie’s entertainment is being sabotaged by the pissing monster child, 6 year old Rodney. Things go from very bad to very worse when they score six bottles of Stellenbosch whiskey. That is all I am saying.

Champ is Mark Elderkin, Nicholas Pauling (who are completely amazing, show makingly great) and Oliver Booth (a little less completely amazing) as the bear suited actors, Pierre Malherbe as the completely whacky and bizarre Waldo (I love Pierre Malherbe a lot) and Jenny Stead, the Minnie Mouse from hell of Mall Management (who managed to pull off a final monologue like a maniac). Champ is also filthy mouthed playwright Louis Viljoen (who already won the Fleur for Champ for Best New South African Script) and director Greg Karvellas. And amazing Julia Anastosopolous designed the gloomy and grim looking set (I loved what happened to it during the Horror).

Now I am not scared of swearing. This is good, because there is a lot of it in Louis’ fast and hectic dialogue, and some of it is very explicit and creative. I am also not (very) scared of the predicament of under employed actors, and I know their (our) type very well. It should probably be said here that I spent two years working weekends at The East Rand Mall (in a job so indescribably hellish I cannot even do it here), and I spent about two years performing dramatised school tour walkabouts at the V&A Waterfront. Yup. Fo shizzle. So, Champ was pretty familiar territory for me. And I guess, that’s what made it (stripped of every second expletive) damn funny and cute.

Champ is a fast, fun, filthy frolic through the hells of malls, acting, and fucked up relationships that produce offspring with the worst parents. I had a good laugh out loud time.

PS. I also loved the pre and post show music, and I was also jealous. I want to be in a play like that and speak that dialogue.

Kat And The Kings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was flu-ish and slightly feverish last night. I thought it wouldn’t be a great way to experience David Kramer’s famous musical Kat And The Kings, but instead I had an amazing and slightly transcendent experience. I sat in the Fugard theatre last night and had one of those moments of pure childhood fantasy. It was an idea of the impossible made real, like when you thought you could really, really have a talking dog, the only one ever and it would belong to you? The power of the childhood fantasy was always an emotional one too. It made you feel something huge and indescribable; a feeling of such potent longing and possibility. That’s what I felt last night in the theatre during Kat And The Kings.

I am not going to go into any detail about this production (which is completely fabulous) or the cast (who are mostly amazing) or the design (lovely) or the production values (awesome), or the absolute hugeness of the difference a live band makes. Let’s take how good this show is for granted. I want to talk about the other stuff, the stuff it made me feel.

Imagine this. Imagine that Kat and The Kings was a show that ran in Cape Town, right where it is now, at The Fugard, for forever. Imagine that every tourist, both local and international, when they came to Cape Town went to Robben Island, Table Mountain, to the penguins, and to Kat And The Kings. Imagine many of them being disappointed because shows were sold out months in advance. The cast would change, people would move on, but Kat And The Kings would keep going. Locals would attend every couple of years, celebrating birthdays, and anniversaries, and even deaths.  People would come to Kat And The Kings as one of the first things they did when they came home to the city. Audiences would dress up on certain nights (like the Rocky Horror Picture Show) in polka dot skirts, kid gloves, pomaded hair and skinny ties. School kids would come, at least once during primary school and once during high school, as part of the school syllabus. Old people would come, from Woodstock and Rylands and Athlone and the Flats to hear the stories of their parents and grand parents.

Kat And The Kings would run for years and years and years, like Moulin Rouge in Paris. It would be part of Cape Town, and it would preserve that history and all its charm in the best possible way. In theatre. In song. In laughter. And love. We could make this happen. We could just keep going to Kat And The Kings.

A weekend of Theatre

A cat stomping on my head is what forced me awake this morning when I should still be sleeping. I got home late (for me) last night and today is the final day of Directors and Directing. Yesterday was long, intense and crazy, with that heightened reality of Grahamstown festival about it. First was the panel discussion of directors about their ‘signature’. Then it was ‘From the Trenches’, a panel discussion by actors about directors. What was very interesting for me is that, in general, I’d rather see the work directors and actors make than listen to them talk about it. Directors are mostly convoluted and obscure when trying to explain what it is that they do, and actors are mostly inarticulate without a character and direction.

The rest of the day was dedicated to the watching of plays. Three of them. We watched The Mechanicals Lie of the Mind first. Then, we went on huge Jammie Shuttle busses to The Theatre Arts Admin Collective for Capturing Sanity, which is the emerging director’s bursary production directed by Pusetso Thibedi, and then it was back on the bus to The Fugard for Fred Abrahamse’s R & J.

The most interesting part of yesterday happened in the conversations I had in the corridors, foyers, parking lots and stairwells. I spoke to playwrights, critics, directors, actors, teachers and friends. Everybody had a passionate point of view. Everybody was excited or exploding about one thing or another. And that’s the whole point.

I am grateful that today has a bit of a later start. My head is crashingly full, and I need to walk the dog with Big Friendly. I need a moment of real life perspective before the world of theatre takes me in.

Jay Pather has managed to turn a monster three day theatre event into a delicious, well oiled learning machine.

Broken, but not just Glass

A few people saw me at the opening of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass at The Fugard on Thursday night, and a couple of them have asked me what I thought. I guess there has been a bit of a surprise that I haven’t written anything. So here’s why.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything; I wasn’t sure it was fair, since my date and I left at interval, and unless I am in a rage of offense about the terribleness of a show, I don’t think it is fair to write. But we didn’t really leave because of the show. We left because of our seats.

Again, it doesn’t really seem fair to complain; I was invited to the opening night after all, but actually, it was more like a punishment than an honour. It was my first time at The Fugard. I used to work in the building, when it housed AMAC, and I would climb up the stairs to teach a motley crew improv. So I was suitably impressed when we walked through the grand doors and into the gorgeous foyer/bar/bookshop area. I felt like I had entered a portal from the grimy streets of Cape Town directly into West End. What a transformation! Then I saw my date’s face when she saw our tickets and I had a feeling we were in trouble. Up the stairs we went, stopping briefly to salivate at the most magnificent rehearsal space I have ever seen in my entire life. Up even further we went. To our barstools in the ceiling; SSL22 and 23 to be exact.

It was then that I realised the extent of my punishment. We were deeply along the left hand side of the venue, with only the right hand side of the stage visible. We were on bar stools. We were in the sky, with a perfect view only of the cellist who played the in between music between scenes. We negotiated awkwardly with the other fellow Siberian outcasts next to us, too afraid to lean too far forward in case they couldn’t see. It was awful.

I stood for the second half of the first act. When my date whispered about whether I had a policy of leaving at interval I didn’t give it a second thought. My back couldn’t take another session of standing. And I didn’t feel like doing that for what was ostensibly a radio play for me. I know that all my quibbles with the performances of the actors would have lessened if I could have seen their eyes, or faces!

We left. So, here’s what I think, dear Fugard Theatre. Thanks for the comps, but no thanks. Do not invite people and then make people sit there, in the Siberian Steppe equivalent of theatre seats; especially for traditional, old-fashioned theatre, more suited to a proscenium arch space. Maybe, if really poor, desperate students of theatre are prepared to pay R15 to sit there, on the understanding that they have been given a special chance, then use them. But, I felt like I was being sent a message. You can come to opening night, but only just. The problem is that you can’t watch theatre from there and not hate every last second of it. I know that the production really wasn’t that bad, but from where I was the accents were inconsistent, the relationships unconvincing, the Jewishness stereotypical, the play dated; Sir Antony Sher notwithstanding.

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